Brisbane Powers Green Energy with Critical Minerals

18th June 2024

As Brisbane gears up for the 2032 Olympic and Paralympic Games, it is also taking a lead role in a sustainable energy transition, a journey that is part of a broader shift towards a decarbonised, electrified future. The capital city of Queensland, Australia, is ready to deal with the challenges of this shift, balancing the immediate demand for traditional resources with the urgent need for critical minerals essential for renewable energy technologies. The Brisbane Convention & Exhibition Centre’s (BCEC) role in this effort is crucial since business events are used as progress accelerators.

Words Vicky Koffa

Brisbane’s Sustainable Energy Landscape

Queensland boasts a rich variety of mineral resources, including cobalt, vanadium, titanium, graphite, and rare earth elements (REE’s). This natural wealth brings Brisbane at the forefront of supplying the raw materials necessary for the global energy transition. Such critical minerals are essential for rechargeable lithium-ion batteries, aerospace alloys, steel production, energy storage solutions, and a host of high-tech applications, underscoring the strategic importance of Brisbane and its surrounding regions in the global supply chain in various economic sectors.

The Critical Minerals Conference at BCEC

With rich mineral endowments across the state and a history of mining excellence, Queensland and Brisbane play a vital role in delivering the critical minerals and technologies needed for the global energy transition. Conferences have the power to transmit this knowledge globally and accelerate the transition process in a smooth way. Recognising this, in 2023 AusIMM, Australasia’s peak body representing people in the resources sector, took the strategic step to establish a brand-new influential Critical Minerals Conference.

Building on the knowledge accumulated during the event’s first edition, the Brisbane Convention & Exhibition Centre (BCEC) is now getting ready to host the second Critical Minerals Conference from 26-28 August 2024, reinforcing Brisbane’s role as a leader in the global energy transition. Spearheaded by AusIMM, the event promises to unite a vast community of leaders and technical experts dedicated to the critical minerals sector and drive discussions on the significant role of mining in a more sustainable future.

Stephen Durkin, CEO of AusIMM, underscores the conference’s vision: “AusIMM wants to bring the largest community of critical minerals professionals ever assembled in Australia to Brisbane, the hub of Queensland’s world-class mining and future energy industry. This will be a forum to share knowledge on a topic of state and national importance that also has global significance.” The aim of the three-day event is to foster dialogue, collaboration, and innovation across the board, addressing vital topics from mining sustainability to the integration of renewable technologies in critical minerals production.

The conference focuses on showcasing expertise and insights into how regions like Queensland can contribute to a decarbonising world, emphasising the significance of metals such as lithium, nickel, and zinc in renewable energy technologies. Mr Durkin says: “Our goal is to share knowledge that bolsters the safe supply of metals and minerals critical for a low carbon future.”

Through relaxed conversations among delegates, important keynote speakers and post-conference tours and workshops, the Critical Minerals Conference is set to be a keystone event positioning Brisbane as a hub of innovation and sustainable development.

Kym Guesdon, General Manager of BCEC, concludes the future in critical minerals is incredibly exciting: “At BCEC we’re very much invested in supporting our Advocates and Australian peak bodies who are bringing these solutions to the world and sharing these successful outcomes at conferences. Brisbane is very much a collaborative destination where our sectors generously share their innovation ‘smarts’ with us, it’s undoubtedly elevating our profile while at the same time bringing solutions well beyond our city to the world.”

The transition to a sustainable economy also involves innovative strategies to maximise waste from abandoned mine sites, extracting key minerals needed for the electrification of the global market and reinforcing the concept of circular economy. It also offers the perfect platform for local and foreign investment and business exchange as the mining and mineral processing sector is growing fast in the region. 

Such purposeful actions are part of the Queensland Critical Minerals Strategy – building on the Queensland Resources Industry Development Plan (QRIDP), which “provides a 30-year roadmap to ensure Queensland’s resources industry continues to create jobs and prosperity for generations to come, and brings clear focus to the development of a critical minerals sector,” (according to the government’s website). This holistic approach ensures that no stone is left unturned in the quest for sustainability, reflecting the ethos of Brisbane’s state government and its commitment to this transformative journey.

However, while the world moves towards renewable energy sources, the path is filled with challenges, for instance the coexistence of traditional coal industries with the growing demand for critical minerals necessary for renewable technologies. 

Coal, especially metallurgical coal, remains a vital component in steel production, indispensable for building infrastructure and manufacturing renewable energy equipment like wind turbines and solar panels. At the same time, the anticipated global shortage of critical minerals – necessary for batteries, energy storage, and electrification – adds another layer of urgency to Brisbane’s role: the state’s abundant natural reserves position it as a key player in the global supply chain. This dual role of coal and critical minerals in Brisbane’s energy landscape highlights a critical balance: supporting the existing needs of traditional industries while aggressively pursuing the extraction and processing of critical minerals.

BCEC on Grey Street ©South Bank Corporation

Conferences as Catalysts for Change

In an ambitious journey towards a sustainable future, conferences bridge the gap between traditional energy sources and the critical minerals sector. The spotlight on Brisbane, particularly in the lead-up to the 2032 Olympic and Paralympic Games, offers unparalleled opportunities to showcase the city’s advancements and to inspire global action towards sustainable practices.

The Brisbane Convention & Exhibition Centre (BCEC) has long been ahead of the game, being actively conscious of the positive impact a meeting can have when organised in a collaborative spirit. In partnership with governmental key stakeholders such as the Brisbane Economic Development Agency (BEDA) and global leaders in research and development, it harnesses the power of international conferences to foster dialogue, innovation, and collaboration. 

On a scientific and academic level, the BCEC Convention Advocates Partnership offers the city the right platform to attract international scientific conventions. Populated by world leaders across various sectors and Queensland’s elite scientific and industry leaders for over a decade already, the partnership amplifies the impact of business events, delivering benefits and creating legacies of new opportunities for research and business for Brisbane.

BCEC is actively targeting conferences that support the global conversations and the commercialisation of R&D into industry to accelerate the transition in technology, investment and policy needed to achieve Queensland and Australia’s goals in a low carbon economy. These gatherings are not only forums for sharing knowledge and advancing research but also platforms for showcasing Brisbane’s contributions to technological, social, and environmental innovations on a global scale. 

In order to effectively achieve the expected progress, Brisbane and the BCEC are working closely with the national research organisation CSIRO, as well as Brisbane’s universities – for example, The University of Queensland (UQ) and the Queensland University of Technology (QUT) – and Australia’s peak bodies, like AusIMM who advocates for a global community from 100 countries involved in all aspects of the mining industry. The comprehensive collaboration is met with the city’s state-of-the-art infrastructure, international access, sub-tropical lifestyle to create unique conference experiences with a lasting impact.

Advancing Critical Minerals Research & Development

The critical minerals research and development ecosystem in Brisbane is clearly a bright example of innovation and collaboration. Its power derives from the significant support of the city’s academic and professional champions, such as BCEC Advocate Adjunct Professor Dr. Neville Plint. His work has been pivotal in enhancing mining operations through technological advancements and fostering a global network of research professionals.

As the former Director of the University of Queensland’s Sustainable Mining Institute and the current CEO of Mining3 (a research organisation), Dr. Plint brings a wealth of knowledge and experience to the table. He emphasises Brisbane’s global research and development efforts in addressing global sustainability challenges, stating: “Brisbane is a world-leading research hub in the sector and is contributing significantly to solutions. As a region traditionally dependent on coal exports, Queensland’s transition to technology metal extraction and beneficiation is critical in transitioning to a low carbon future.”

Dr. Plint further highlights the competitive yet collaborative nature of Brisbane’s critical minerals sector: “Whilst it is an increasingly competitive landscape, when you consider our research centres, industry leaders, universities, and tech companies around Brisbane, and you put all of these together, you have probably within a 20 kilometres radius the most productive mining research in the world.” He is a strong believer in the synergistic potential of Brisbane’s innovation ecosystem, which gives the city a competitiveadvantage in the global marketplace.

The collaborative spirit extends beyond research to include a comprehensive approach to social and environmental sustainability. “One of the big issues as you transition out of one sector and into another is how you can take people with you, because you don’t want to be closing down mine operations and then creating ghost towns. Communities should not be penalised because of the transition to renewables,” Dr. Plint asserts. 

This concern led to the establishment of the collaborative research centre called Transition in Mining Economies (TIME), a venture developed by the University of Queensland and the University of Western Australia. The initiative focuses on managing transitions from social and environmental perspectives, embodying a holistic approach to sustainability.

Through years of experience and research, Dr. Plint is in a position to recognise Brisbane’s success and further potential. He says: “If you look at our track record, the universities and CSIRO in Brisbane are the most successful in the world in terms of taking research through to commercialisation in this sector.”Brisbane proves to be not just a leader in the field but also a strategic enabler for conferences which contribute to development, innovation, and global collaboration in the mission towards a sustainable energy future.

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